chapter seven

Eastern Religions and Traditions


Though most studies consider Buddha as a religious leader, I would prefer to consider him as a scientist.  This is also probably true about the magicians and the alchemists who led to the study of the universe and started the science as we know of today. Buddha said:

"Do not believe in anything, no matter where you heard it, or who said it, even if it has been handed down over the generations, or has come from your own imagination, unless after careful consideration it agrees with your own sense of reason, and is good for the welfare of all beings, only then should you believe it and follow it."

The idea of reincarnation in a scientific form was first stated by Buddha.  Until that time it was based on the experience of the families who saw their ancestral traits in their progenies, which we easily explain in terms of the DNA transmission.  It can be stated with confidence that the origin of the concept of reincarnation as we know today came from Buddha. 

The Buddhist concept of reincarnation differs from others in that there is no eternal "soul", "spirit" or "self" but only a "stream of consciousness" that links life with life. The actual process of change from one life to the next is called punarbhava (Sanskrit) or punabbhava (Pāli), literally "becoming again", or more briefly bhava, "becoming", and some English-speaking Buddhists prefer the term "rebirth" or "re-becoming" to render this term as they take "reincarnation" to imply a fixed entity that is reborn. 

Man is a combination of  name (nama) and form (rupa) and is formed by five aggregates (Panchakkandha) the five skandha

The sutras describe five aggregates:

·            "form" or "matter" (Skt., Pāli rūpa; Tib. gzugs): external and internal matter. Externally, rupa is the physical world. Internally, rupa includes the material body and the physical sense organs.

·         "sensation" or "feeling" (Skt., Pāli vedanā; Tib. tshor-ba): sensing an object[g] as either pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.

·        "perception", "conception", "apperception", "cognition", or "discrimination" (Skt. samjñā, Pāli saññā, Tib. 'du-shes): registers whether an object is recognized or not (for instance, the sound of a bell or the shape of a tree).

·        "mental formations", "impulses", "volition", or "compositional factors" (Skt. samskāra, Pāli saṅkhāra, Tib. 'du-byed): all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.

·        "consciousness" or "discernment" (Skt. vijñāna, Pāli viññāṇa, Tib. rnam-par-shes-pa)

In Buddhist doctrine and  metaphysics, the word skandha refers to the five "aggregate" elements that are said to comprise the psychophysical personality.

These five aggregates are:

Form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), perception(samjñā), consciousness (vijñāna, Pāliviññāṇa), and reasoning (vāsanā or samskāra).

The term skandha can also mean "compound, mass, heap, bundle, or tree trunk."

 Enumeration and relationship

In the Pali canon, the aggregates are causally related as follows:

·           Form (rupa) arises from experientially irreducible physical/physiological phenomena.

·           Form—in terms of an external object (such as a sound) and its associated sense organ (such as the ear)—gives rise to consciousness (viññāṇa).[8][9]

·           From the contact of form and consciousness arise the three mental (nāma) aggregates of feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā), and mental formation  (sankhāra).

In this scheme, physical form, the mental aggregates, and consciousness are mutually dependent. Other Buddhist literature has described the aggregates as arising in a linear or progressive fashion, from form to feeling to perception to mental formations to consciousness. (Trungpa 2001, 36–37) In regards to these aggregates:

·           The first five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) are derivatives of form. The sixth sense organ (mind) is part of consciousness.

·           The first five sense objects (visible forms, sound, smell, taste, touch) are also derivatives of form. The sixth sense object (mental object) includes form, sensation, perception, and mental formations.

·           The six sense consciousness is the basis for consciousness.

Traditional Buddhist literature (such as the Abhidhamma) speaks of one physical aggregate (form), three mental factors (sensation, perception, and mental formations) and consciousness. Contemporary writers (such as Trungpa Rinpoche and Red Pine) sometimes conceptualize the five aggregates as "one physical and four mental" aggregates.

The aggregate of feeling (vedanā), aggregate of perception (saññā),aggregate of determination (sankhāra),aggregate of consciousness (viññāna) together constitute the nāma while the aggregate of matter constitute the rūpa.

These five components taken together are called the panca upādānakkhanda or the five ‘holding aggregates.’

These forces are working together in a flux of momentary change; they are never the same for two consecutive moments. They are the component forces of the psycho-physical life.

Aggregate of matter (Rūpa)

According to the Buddha, man is not a simple conglomeration of material elements but a conglomeration of material elements that have the power of grasping. This conglomeration can be read in two senses:

·         composition of the 4 physical elements- apō (fluidity), thejo (heat), vayo (motion) and patavi (solidity);

·         composition of the body and sense organs which give rise to the holding aggregate of matter (upādana-rūpa)

Aggregate of feelings or sensations (Vedanā)

Vedanā is of two types, physical and mental.  Both physical and mental feelings are pleasant (sukha), unpleasant (dukkha) or neutral (adukkhamasukha).  These feelings or sensations are experienced through the six sense organs. Some are pleasant and others unpleasant.  Man tends to cling or grasp (upadana) on to the pleasant sensations leading to greed (raganusaya). The unpleasant leads to revulsion (patiganusaya).  These experiences eventually leads to intentional activities of a person giving rise to kamma. The Buddhist texts list 52 such volitional activities. The most fundamental volitional activity is Sākkayaditthi or the idea of self. 

 “Consciousness may exist having matter as its means (rūpapāyam), matter as its object (rūparāmmanam), matter as its support (rūpapatittham), and seeking delight, it may grow, increase and develop, or consciousness may exist having sensations as its means….or perceptions as its means…or dispositions as its means, dispositions as its object; dispositions as its support, and seeking delight , it may grow, increase and develop.” (Mallikarachchi, 2003:40)

“…..It is thirst or craving, causing the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there- that is to say, the craving for the gratification of passions, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for success in this present life. This is the noble truth containing the origin of suffering.” (Mallikarachchi, 2003:21)

Anatta (Anatma) or soul-lessness

This Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be distinguished from the theory of reincarnation which implies the transmigration of a soul and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the existence of an unchanging or eternal soul nor the existence of a creator God.

If you look for the self within the body, you can not find it there, since the body itself is dependent upon its parts.

 If you look for the self within the mind, you can not find it there, since the mind can only be said to exist in relation to external objects;

therefore the mind is also dependent upon causes and conditions outside of itself.

Hence, since the self can not be said to exist within the body or mind, it is said to be "empty of inherent existence".

    Hence, since the self can not be said to exist within the body or mind, it is said to be "empty of inherent existence".  According to Buddhism there are dimensions which are material and dimensions which are non-material which are interacting with each other.  These form the non-material parts of man. Mind is a complex compound of fleeting mental states.

Consciousness consists of three phases --

·         arising or genesis (uppada)

·         static or development (thiti), and

·         cessation or dissolution (bhanga).

 This process is repeated in time.  Thus each momentary consciousness is an ongoind process in time whereby some for life-process, and spiritual energy is transmitted in time. The beginning of the one is the starting point for the next state of existence.   This would mean that what is existing at any point in time is nothing but a state which depended on the preceding state.  The subsequent thought moment is neither absolutely the same as its predecessor -- since that which goes to make it up is not identical -- nor entirely another -- being the same continuity of kamma energy. Here there is no identical being but there is an identity in process.   This argument is also true of the human body. Buddhism teaches that birth, death and rebirth are part of the continuing process of change. This is similar to the continuous process of growth, decay and replacement of cells in one's body. According to medical experts, every seven years, all body cells are replaced. In the body and mind the next moment is decided by the preceding moments and the states. Every moment there is birth, every moment there is death. The arising of one thought-moment means the passing away of another thought-moment and vice versa. In the course of one life-time there is this series of momentary birth and rebirth. 


"What is the cause, what is the reason, O Lord," questioned he, "that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the diseased, the ugly and beautiful, those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low-born and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?"

Buddha replied: "All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states."

Atthasalini, a commentary on the Abhidharma, states:

"Depending on this difference in Karma appears the differences in the birth of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in Karma appears the difference in the individual features of beings as beautiful and ugly, high-born or low born, well-built or deformed. Depending on the difference in Karma appears the difference in worldly conditions of beings, such as gain and loss, and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery."

The most important factor, but not the only one, influencing where we will be the next moment and what sort of life we shall have, is kamma. Kamma is the Pali word which in Sanskrit is called Karma.  The word kamma means 'action'.  .Kamma is intentional action, a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind.  It refers to our intentional mental actions.This is what changes the inherited Karma. This is based on the free will of the person.  Karma can be good and bad volition (kusala Akusala Centana).  What we are is determined  by how we have thought and acted in the past. Likewise, how we think and act now will influence how we will be in the future. This is what produce the rebirth and what form and where this rebirth will be.

According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms. They are natural laws and does not assume a Spiritual Supernatural God.

They are:

In the Physical Realm:

  1. Utu Niyama - physical inorganic order  All physical material world are part of this order.
  2. Bija Niyama - order of germs and seeds (physical organic order) 
  3. Karma Niyama - order of act and result.
  4. Dhamma Niyama - order of the norm, the natural phenomena.  

In the Mental Realm

  1. Citta Niyama - order or mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, etc., including telepathy, telaesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading and such other psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to modern science.

Buddhism does not believe in the existence of Spiritual Realm.

"I declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by body, speech, and thought." (Anguttara Nikaya)

Good deeds earn a person merits (Anisamsa)  and bad deeds earn a person demerits (Adinaya).

Every volitional action of individuals changes the future from its inherited karma.  The future is changed by volitional acts.  During the course of life it is these acts that decides the future.


In the working of Karma there are maleficent and beneficent forces and conditions to counteract and support this self-operating law. Birth (gati) time or condition (kala) substratum of rebirth or showing attachment to rebirth (upadhi) and effort (payoga) act as such powerful aids and hindrances to the fruition of Karma. On the specific level, karma refers to those actions which spring from the intention (cetanā) of a sentient being.  Karmic actions are compared to a seed that will inevitably ripen into a result or fruition (referred to as vipāka or phala in Sanskrit and Pali).


The following is taken from the Buddhism.Net which gives the classification in detail:

 According to their different functions, Karama is classified into 4 kinds.

1. Reproductive Karma - Karma that shapes up the future birth of a person is called Reproductive Karma. It is the last thought of a person that determines who he would be in his next birth.

2. Supportive Karma -  Assists or maintains the Reproductive Karma, from one’s conception to his death. It is neither good nor bad.

3. Obstructive Karma or Counteractive Karma - Weakens, interrupts and retards the fruition of the Reproductive Karma. For instance, a person  born with a good Reproductive Karma may be subjected to various ailments, thus preventing him from enjoying the blissful results of his good actions. An animal, on the other hand, who is born with a bad Reproductive Karma may lead a comfortable life by getting good food, lodging, as a result of his good counteractive or obstructive Karma preventing the fruition of the evil Reproductive Karma.

4. Destructive Karma - A powerful opposing Karma of the past which nullifies the potential energy of the Reproductive Karma. This is moreeffective than the Supportive Karma and Obstructive Karma. Destructive Karma may be good or bad.Devadatta is the most suitable example to show how the above karma works. He attempted several times to kill Buddha and also made a rift in the Sangha community which are great sins.His good Reproductive Karma made him born to a Royal family. His continued comfort and prosperity were due to the action of the Supportive Karma.The Counteractive or Obstructive Karma came into operation when he was subjected to much humiliation as a result of his being banished from the Sangha community.Finally the Destructive Karma brought his life to a miserable end.


Apart from the ‘Function’, there is another classification of Karma according to the ‘priority of Effect’

1. Weighty Karma  - These karmas are weighty or serious and result in this birth or the next for certain. These may be good or bad. From good Karma, mental state of Jhana (ecstasy & absorption) could be obtained; from bad karma (Killing one’s own mother, Killing one’s own father, killing an Arahant, harassing and wounding the Buddha, creating a rift in the Sangha community, which belong to the heinous ‘panchananthariya karma’ and Permanent Scepticism ) one gets very evil bad results. Even a person who have obtained Jhana earlier, does one of the above heinous crimes later, his Jhana would be obliterated by the powerful evil karma.

*Devadatta lost his psychic power and was born in an evil state, because he wounded the Buddha and caused a rift  in the Sangha community.

*King Ajatasattu would have attained the first stage of Sainthood (Sotapanna) if he had not killed his father. In this case the powerful evil Karma acted as an obstacle to his gaining Sainthood.

2. Asanna Karma (Death-Proximate Karma)

The Karma which one does or remembers immediately before the moment of dying. This plays a great part in determining the future birth of that person. But, he will not be exempted from the effects of his good and evil deeds which he has accumulated during his lifetime. If a bad person dies happily remembering or doing a good deed he receives a good birth; but, he would not be exempted from the effects of the evil deeds which he accumulated during his lifetime. They will have there due effect as occasions arise. Likewise, a good person may die unhappily remembering or doing one bad deed in his entire lifetime and receive a bad birth. But, he would not be exempted from the effects of the good deeds which he accumulated during his lifetime. They will have there due effect as occasions arise.

According to a story, a certain executioner who casually happened to give some alms to the Venerable Sariputta remembered this good act at the dying moment and was born in a state of bliss.

Queen Mallika, the consort of King Kosala, who gave the one and only unrivalled alms giving (Asadisa dana), even a Buddha may receive only once in his life time, remembering the only lie she had uttered to her husband to cover some misbehaviour, in her deathbed, suffered for seven days in hell, in a state of misery before being born in heaven.

3. Habitual (Accina) Karma

Karma, one habitually performs and recollects. Habits whether good or bad form the character of a person. At unguarded moments one often lapses into one’s habitual mental mindset. This usually happens at one’s death-moment.

Cunda, a butcher, who earned his living by slaughtering pigs died yelling like a pig. King Dutthagamini of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was in the habit of giving alms to the Bhikkhus (monks) before he took his own meals. It was his habitual Karma that gladdened him at the dying moment and gave him birth in the Tusita heaven.

4. Reserve Or Cumulative (Katatta) Karma

All actions that are not included in the aforementioned and those actions soon forgotten belong to this category. This is, the reserve fund of a particular being.

Apart from ‘the function’ and ‘The priority of Effect’, there are two other classifications of Karma.


1. According to the time it takes to give the effects. 

  • a) Immediately Effective Karma (Dittadhammavedaniya karma)
  • b) Subsequently Effective Karma (Uppapajjavedaniya karma)
  • c) Indefinitely Effective Karma (Aparapariyavedaniya karma)
  • d) Defunct or Ineffective Karma (Ahosi karma)

a) Immediately Effective Karma (Dittadhammavedaniya karma

The moral and immoral actions of a person which produce their due effect in this very life. if these are not operated in this life, they become Defunct or Ineffective Karma (Ahosi karma).


b) Subsequently Effective Karma (Uppapajjavedaniya karma)

The moral and immoral actions of a person which produce their due effect in their next birth. These too, if not operated in this life, become Defunct or Ineffective Karma (Ahosi karma).


c) Indefinitely Effective Karma (Aparapariyavedaniya karma)

The moral and immoral actions of a person which produce their due effect in all the lives until they attain Nirvana. Even a Buddha or an Arahant cannot evade this class of Karma.


d) Defunct or Ineffective Karma (Ahosi karma)

The moral and immoral actions of a person which do not  produce their due effect in this birth or in the subsequent birth become defunct.


2. According to the plane in which the effects take place 


Our every action, be it of body, speech or mind, which is called “Kamma” determines our destination. The consequences of those actions, which is called “Vipaka” takes us through this eternal ‘samsara’ whether we like it or not. It is those “Kamma Vipaka” which decide, on which realm (plane of existence) we should be born.

According to Buddha, there are three ‘planes of existence’ in which there are thirty one realms a ‘being’ can be born.



The Three ‘Planes of Existence’ and the number of realms in them : 


Kamaloka – (World of Desire) / (Sensuous World)

Characterized by sensual pleasures. There are eleven realms. 4 are woeful realms and 7 are happy realms. The animal world, ghost (Pretha) world, demon (Asura) world and hell are the 4 woeful realms. Human realm is a happy realm because it is in this realm that one can learn Dhamma and end suffering. Rest of the six are Heavens.


Rupaloka – (World of Form) / (Fine Material World)

Those who see the disadvantages of sense-impressions may cultivate jhana ; they can be reborn in higher heavenly planes which are not sensuous planes. Those who attain rupa-jhana can be reborn in rupa-brahma planes where there are less sense-impressions. There are sixteen rupa-brahma planes in all. One of them is the asanna-satta plane where there is only rupa, not nama. Those who have attained the highest stage of rupa- jhana and who wish to have no consciousness at all, can be reborn without citta; for them there is only a body. These beings have seen the disadvantages of consciousness; even happiness is a disadvantage, since it does not last.


Arupaloka – (World of Formlessness) / (Immaterial World)

 Those who see the disadvantages of rupa cultivate arupa-jhana. Those who attain arupa-jhana can be reborn in arupa-brahma planes where there are no rupas. There are four arupa-brahma planes. Beings born in these planes have only nama, not rupa. People may wonder how there can be beings which only have rupa or beings which only have nama. If we can experience different characteristics of nama-elements and rupa- elements as they appear one at a time and if we have realized that they are only elements which arise because of conditions, not a being or a person, not self, we will have no doubt that, when there are the appropriate conditions, there can be rupa without nama and nama without rupa.


When the body cease to function, mind does not cease to exist and the kamma finds an alternate body that befits its last state of existence. Thus it is the last moments that particularly decide the next body and place of birth.

Reincarnation is the continuity of the person after death, while Rebirth is the continuity of karmic tendencies - not the person - after death.  In contrast to the idea of “continuity of person” after death, Buddhism teaches “continuity of life”.   Buddhism did not believe in reincarnation but in rebirth. Buddha describes reincarnation as transmigration.  Buddha compared it to lighting successive candles using the flame of the preceding candle. Although each flame is causally connected to the one that came before it, it is not the same flame. It burns and produce light of its own through the present source of fuel available.

However as time went on, as in the case of Tibetan Buddhism, reincarnation was indeed brought in to this sect as affirmed by the reincarnation of Dalai Lamas as a means of selecting the head of the Tibetan Buddhist sect. The process of choosing a child as the reincarnation of a deceased Lama is based on a judgment of a committee of monks - about how the examined child reacted to personal items of the deceased Lama. The reaction of the child is considered as an indication of  a “memory of himself” in a past existence. 

Buddhism entered in Tibet from India only by fifth century AD during  the reign of King Thothori Nyantsen (5th century), when a basket of Buddhist scriptures arrived in Tibet from India. Written in Sanskrit, they were not translated into Tibetan during the reign of king Songtsän Gampo (618-649 AD)  Evidently Hindu influence predominated in this sect.  As a result Tibetan Buddhism seems to affirm reincarnation rather than rebirth in direct opposition to the teachings of Buddha.

The concept of reincarnation does not fit within the Buddhist Law of Impermanence, which teaches that one’s current self is transient, and that there is nothing called  soul.  If there is nothing called the soul, the personality, it  evidently does not survive.

 “The function that leads us to believe in a permanent self is called the Mano, seventh consciousness...operating in the name of self-preservation and expansion. It seems to correspond to the Western idea of the ego (Ikeda :Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and death, p.156. )

Karma is the law of moral causation. It is action and reaction in the ethical realm. It is natural law that every action produces a certain effect. So if one performs wholesome actions such as donating money to charitable organizations, happiness will ensue. On the other hand, if one performs unwholesome actions, such as killing a living being, the result will be suffering. This is the law of cause and effect at work. In this way, the effect of past karma determines the nature of one's present situation in life.

The Buddha said,

"According to the seed that is sown,

So is the fruit you reap

The door of good of will gather good results

The door of evil reaps evil results.

If you plant a good seed well,

Then you will enjoy the good fruits."

Karma is a law itself. But it does not follow that there should be a lawgiver. The law of Karma, too, demands no lawgiver. It operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent agency.

Bhikkhu Silacara says: "Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions appropriate to its visible manifestation are present. Here showing itself as a tiny gnat or worm, there making its presence known in the dazzling magnificence of a Deva or an Archangel's existence. When one mode of its manifestation ceases it merely passes on, and where suitable circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name or form."

The twelve nidanas and their causal relationships can be expressed as follows:

English terms

Sanskrit terms

With Ignorance as condition, Mental Formations arise

With Avidyā as condition, Saṅkhāra (Saṃskāra) arises

With Mental Formations as condition, Consciousness arises

With Saṅkhāra (Saṃskāra) as condition, Vijñāna arises

With Consciousness as condition, Mind and Matter arise

With Vijñāna as condition, Nāmarūpa arises

With Mind and Matter as condition, Sense Gates arise

With Nāmarūpa as condition, Ṣaḍāyatana arises

With Sense Gates as condition, Contact arises

With Ṣaḍāyatana as condition, Sparśa arises

With Contact as condition, Feeling arises

With Sparśa as condition, Vedanā arises

With Feeling as condition, Craving arises

With Vedanā as condition, Tṛṣṇā arises

With Craving as condition, Clinging arises

With Tṛṣṇā as condition, Upādāna arises

With Clinging as condition, Becoming arises

With Upādāna as condition, Bhava arises

With Becoming as a condition, Birth arises

With Bhava as condition, Jāti arises

With Birth as condition, Aging and Dying arise

With Jāti as condition, Jarāmaraṇa arises

Six Realms

There are six realms in which one may be reborn after death. All these realms are intertwined and forms a unity of cosmos. They are the realms of gods, the demigods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts and the hells. These are just general categories and within each, there exist many sub-categories. The six realms of existence include three relatively happy states, and three relatively miserable states. The realms of the gods, the demigods and human beings are considered to contain more happiness and less suffering. The realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells are considered to be relatively miserable because living beings there suffer more from fear, hunger, thirst, heat, cold and pain.


The Buddha pointed out that whenever one is reborn, whether as a human being, as an animal, or as a god, none of these states of existence is permanent.  As long as there is adherence and desire, the cycle of death and birth will continue.  Nirvana is when all actions are done without desire and attachment which permanently terminates this cycle.

Of all the six realms, the realm of human beings is considered the most desirable. In the realm of human beings, the conditions for attaining Nirvana are better.